Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan

Kazuaki Tanahashi, Author
Kazuaki Tanahashi. Shambhala, $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-59030-982-7
Reviewed on: 09/17/2012
Release date: 10/09/2012
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Tanahashi, a translator (most significantly of Dogen, founder of the Soto Zen school), calligrapher, teacher, and peace activist, has rendered into English a selection of poems by Ryokan (1758-1831), a revered Zen monk who lived during Japan's late Edo period. To provide context, Tanahashi , a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, offers the reader glimpses into the trajectory of Ryokan's life as a "pilgrim, a hermit, and a beggar"; illustrations and discussion of the master's calligraphy; traditional anecdotes; and discussion of his "poetic forms." But the book's centerpiece is a set of luminous translations of Ryokan's poetry. The monk focuses on minute details of the natural world, observations about impermanence and illusion, and wry observations about his own life. In late life Ryokan found love with a young nun, with whom he exchanged delicate short verses. Each poem is printed starkly on an otherwise white page and organized by phases in Ryokan's life. At the book's end Tanahashi describes the complex process of translating Ryokan's Japanese and Chinese scripts into English to produce these simple, radiant poems. (Oct.)
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